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Bible Commentaries

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible
Acts 25

 

 

Verse 1

"Festus then, having arrived in the province" The province under consideration would be Syria of which Judea was a part. Festus will try to correct many of the abuses that took place under the past administration and one of the matters left over was the prisoner Paul. "Three days later went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea" After a brief rest in Caesarea Festus immediately went up to Jerusalem to meet the various local Roman and Jewish officials.


Verse 2

"Brought charges against Paul" In two years that passed (24:27), the hatred towards Paul had not waned. The Jewish authorities immediately seek to persuade the new governor to bring Paul up to Jerusalem (25:3).


Verse 3

"At the same time, setting an ambush to kill him on the way" "The zealous forty who had been frustrated in an earlier plot to assassinate Paul or others who emulated their zeal might find a better opportunity on the road from Caesarea to Jerusalem" (Bruce p. 475). Such a plot justifies the large company of soldiers and cavalry that accompanied Paul to Caesarea in the first place.


Verse 4-5

Festus rejects the Jewish offer and responds that he will hear Paul"s case and the Jewish leaders can travel to Caesarea and present their case. "Although Festus was a more conciliatory character than Felix, yet on his first visit to Jerusalem he stood firm. In spite of the urgent pleas of the Jewish leaders" (Stott p. 365). "Let them prosecute him" In light of 25:16 and from secular sources Festus appears to be a man who "tried to run a just and equitable administration, and his handling of Paul"s case, so far, shows that he is trying to be fair to both sides" (Reese p. 859).


Verse 6

"Eight or ten days" "The indefinite "eight or ten days" is thought to be figured from Luke"s standpoint, since in Caesarea he wouldn"t know how many days were spent in Jerusalem and how many in travel between the cities" (Reese p. 859). Thus Festus tries Paul"s case with speed, remember he has only been in Judea for less than two weeks. The Jewish authorities certainly cannot claim about any delay on his part. "Took his seat on the tribunal" That is, acted in his official capacity as judge. Compare with Acts 18:12.


Verse 7

The Jews threw out many charges and accusations but they could not prove any of them. These accusations were probably very similar to the charges presented in chapter 24 by Tertullus.


Verse 8

Paul answers such charges, he had committed no crime against the Law of Moses (but rather taught its accurate fulfillment), nor the temple (he treated it with respect), nor against the Roman government. The charge against Caesar was probably the accusation that he taught a political messiahism. "The Jews knew that the Roman governors were unwilling to convict on purely religious charges and therefore tried to give a political twist to the religious charge. And the prolongation of the trial was due to the fact that the charge was political and yet the evidence was theological" (Stott p. 366).


Verse 9

"Wishing to do the Jews a favor" It appears that as Festus hears both sides that he is at a loss to figure out what the real argument was. Like many politicians then and now, he seeks to offer a compromise that would place himself in favor with his subjects. "It was a matter of indifference so far as Roman justice was concerned whether the reopened case was heard in Caesarea or Jerusalem" (Bruce p. 477). "Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these charges?" Festus thinks he is doing something that would make the Jews happy all the while they are planning an ambush against not only Paul but his own troops. We need to be wary of trying to please evil men, for as we are bending over to accommodate them they are often getting ready to stab us in the back. "Festus, at this point, allowed his sense of justice to be biased by his desire for popularity" (McGarvey p. 243).


Verse 10

"As you also very well know" Certainly Paul knew that a return to Jerusalem was dangerous for had already escaped one attempted assassination. Paul knew and understood the lengths that these Jews would go to far better than Festus (Romans 10:1-2 "zeal without knowledge"). In addition, such a trip was completely unnecessary. Caesarea was the seat of the Roman administration, and this trial and the one before Felix should have proven that Paul had done nothing wrong. After all how many trials does it take to declare a man innocent. Felix had found nothing wrong with Paul, neither had the Roman commander in Jerusalem and neither had Festus at this proceeding. It reminds me of the Jews that kept pressing Pilate after he had declared Jesus innocent.


Verse 11

"If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die" Paul recognized that the death penalty was both lawful and biblical. There are crimes that deserve death as a punishment and when such crimes are committed the state has the right to execute the criminal. Paul is making it clear that he is not trying to circumvent justice or prolong his trial indefinitely. "But if none of those things is true" Yet Paul had not committed any such crimes. This verse makes it clear that Paul knew what the Jews wanted and they wanted to put him to death. "No one can hand me over to them, I appeal to Caesar" The appeal to Caesar was the right that every Roman citizen had. Such an appeal "was made to instantly suspend proceedings I the case, and to send the prisoner, together with his accusers, to Rome, that the case might be adjudged by the imperial court" (McGarvey p. 245). Such an appeal could only be made in extreme cases. Paul knew that in Jerusalem Festus would be up against powerful forces and pressure to rule in the Jews favor - and that"s even if he ever arrived alive.

We learn a couple of lesson here:

Christians do have the right to make lawful use of the courts in order to defend themselves.

We have the right to use whatever legal maneuvering is lawful if we are indeed innocent.

God does not expect Paul to give in and sacrifice himself as soon as possible.

There is nothing wrong with being an citizen of an earthly kingdom.


Verse 12

Festus accepts Paul"s appeal.


Verse 13

"King Agrippa" Herod Agrippa II was the son of Herod Agrippa I who had died in Acts 12:1-25 and the great grandson of Herod the Great. Bernice as his sister, and "rumors were rife that their relationship was incestuous. Because he had been only seventeen years old when his father died, he was considered too young to assume the kingdom of Judea, which therefore reverted to the rule by procurator. Instead, he was given a tiny and insignificant northern kingdom within what is now Lebanon, and this was later augmented by territory in Galilee. He and Bernice came to Caesarea to pay their respects to the new procurator, and during their stay Festus raised Paul"s case" (Stott p. 368). When Herod arrives he is now 31 years old. Remember Bernice and Drusilla were both his sisters. Bernice had been the wife of her own uncle, the former king of Chalcis, but she was now a widow and lived with her brother. Since 52 A.D. Herod Agrippa II had been the one who controlled the temple in Jerusalem, appointed and deposed high priests, and did all of this from the standpoint of what was best for the Roman Empire. Agrippa II will rule until the outbreak of the war against Rome (66-70 A.D.) that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem. He first tried to persuade the Jews not to rebel, but then fought on the side of Vespasian and was wounded in the siege of Gamala. After the destruction of Jerusalem he moved to Rome (with his sister accompanying), where he became a preator, that is a court judge or governor in the provinces. He died in 100 A.D. Bernice will stay with her brother but will also become the mistress of Vespasian and then Titus. "Because Bernice has such a bad reputation among the Roman people, Titus was prevented from marrying her and he finally sent her from Rome, possibly after he became Emperor" (Reese p. xviii). Even though it has probably dawned upon the reader by this point it does need to be stated that all these individuals recorded in this section are also mentioned and talked about in secular sources as well. They were real people and this is real history.


Verse 14

"Festus laid Paul"s case before the king" The reason for this is that Festus really does not understand the theological issues that separate Paul and the Sadducees (19-20). The presence of Agrippa II is timely because Agrippa is far more versed in the detailed differences among the Jews and he does know something about this new Christian movement. Festus just could not see how Paul, a Jew who seemed to show such respect for the Law and the temple was so violently accused by the Jewish leaders.


Verse 15

Felix had left this prisoner and when Festus arrived in Jerusalem the Jews immediately wanted Paul to be bought to Jerusalem to stand trial.


Verse 16

"It is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges" Festus was a stickler for justice and law and the Romans were very proud of their system. Reese notes, "Many of the judicial practices of the Western world have been inherited from Roman practices" (Barnes p. 864). Likewise we need to appreciate the rights we have to be heard, to know the charges against us, to be confronted with the witnesses, to make a defense and be tried by law rather by the passions of men. Notice how these Jews who would have argued that they feared and served God end up being rebuked and taught a lesson about fairness and justice from this Roman governor.


Verse 17

As Festus notes, he had not delayed but tried this case as soon as possible.


Verse 18

The charges brought against Paul caught Festus completely off guard.


Verse 19

"To Festus" surprise and perplexity, the accusations appeared mainly to center round disputed points of Jewish religion, with particular reference to "one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive". The real point at issue had evidently been made clear enough, though Festus did not realize its import. Agrippa no doubt knew enough about the Christian movement to have his interest whetted by these words of Festus" (Bruce p. 483).


Verse 20

"Being at a loss how to investigate" This accurately sums up the situation. Give Festus this much credit, he is humble here and admits his own lack of knowledge and skill in this area. But, Festus is not completely honest here, the main reason why he was willing to send Paul to Jerusalem is because he wanted to do the Jews a favor (25:9).


Verse 22

Agrippa expresses interest in hearing Paul"s case and Festus acts quickly, "tomorrow" you will hear him. Remember, this Herod was at the long line of a list of Herodian family members who had encountered God"s messengers. It was his great-grandfather who had attempted to kill Jesus in the manger, his uncle had killed John the Baptist and sat as judge in the trial of Jesus. His own father had tried to suppress Christianity, killed James, had Peter imprisoned and was struck dead. The names Jesus and the names of the apostles would have been familiar in this family. "He could not lower himself to go hear one of the apostles preach. He could satisfy his long cherished desire to hear one of these men preach, though, by being part of Festus" invited audience on such an occasion, without diminishing his influence among the Jews" (Reese p. 867). It has been suggested that Festus brought up Paul"s case because he was deliberately trying to get Agrippa involved.


Verse 23

"Amid great pomp" Yes at the time it looked like from the human perspective that Agrippa, Bernice and Festus were the really important people in this room, but now we know that the truly important individual here was the prisoner. "All these very important people would have been greatly surprised and not a little scandalized had they been able to foresee the relative estimates that later generations would form of them and of the handcuffed Jew who stood before them to plead his cause" (Bruce p. 484).


Verse 24

It is clear what the Jews want, they want Paul executed.


Verse 25

"I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death" In like manner, Jesus was declared to be innocent. Not only had Paul committed nothing worthy of death but the full reality was that Paul had done nothing worthy of imprisonment as well. What an awkward situation. Here is a man who has be forced to appeal to Caesar and the Roman governor who presided over the case in which such an appeal was made cannot even think of anything wrong that this man has done. "But all could see that Festus was in a bad predicament, in having held as a prisoner a man who was entitled to his liberty, until, now he had appealed to Caesar, there was no chance to get rid of him" (McGarvey pp. 249-250). Notice that this was a very prestigious and learned audience but for the most part these people were completely ignorant of spiritual truths. It reminds me of the extremely intelligent people on Jeopardy who look incredibly ignorant when they attempt the take on the Bible category.


Verse 27

Yes it would be absurd to send a prisoner to Caesar without a clue of what he did that was against the law. This would be both absurd and dangerous to Festus" reputation and life. If he can just get a little help from Agrippa in formulating a letter to Caesar that will sound reasonable he will be out of this jam. Festus did not lack charges against Paul, for the Jews had made many accusations, but none of them stuck, they were all without evidence. "For lack of this, he should have had the courage to declare Paul innocent and release him" (Stott p. 369).

Yet note God"s working behind the scenes. God can use all this hatred on the part of the Jews and men pleasing on the part of the Romans to get Paul to Rome (free of charge) and get Paul not merely in Rome but right in the very presence of Caesar himself! In a very real sense, Paul is God"s Trojan horse that God is sending to Caesar. Inside Paul is not a group of soldiers, but rather something far more powerful, the gospel message! And in order try Paul"s case every Roman official down the line has been a captive audience to this message of salvation - and so will Caesar himself!

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Acts 25:4". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dun/acts-25.html. 1999-2014.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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